Dark wood takes me back to my grandparents’ home in Rochester, NY. A two-story structure built in the late 1800s, it contained massive pieces of darkly stained furniture. I felt as though the furniture, heavy and looming, dug into the floorboards and rooted somewhere below the cellar. Yet the forest didn’t frighten me; my thoughts of that home remain a warm memory.

The piece we’re looking at today is an antique American Empire Revival library table. It’s a dark wood, solid mahogany and made around 1900. I love its size — rather diminutive compared to most tables — and the pleasing curves of its scrolled legs. Although the table is solid, built-in wheels allow for easy movement.
American Empire Revival Library Table

As you can see, this table came to us in rough shape. Check out that large white ring mark. Did someone put a washtub on top of it, maybe enthusiastic college students looking to ice their beers?

We couldn’t retain the dark mahogany and still hope to sell the table here in the Sunshine State. I started to piece together a plan. I wanted to paint the bottom part with Annie Sloan Chalk Paint. The question at hand: Could the top be saved? Luckily, David came to the rescue. The top absolutely could be saved, but first we had to clean off over a hundred years of grime with Simple Green and some mineral spirits.
American Empire Revival Style

Once we flipped it over, we found number 377 stenciled on the bottom. That’s the only identifying characteristic but not enough to lead us to a manufacturer.
American Empire Revival Style
David shellacked the lower part in preparation for the paint. It’s essential to shellac mahogany if you are going to use ASCP or else you’ll face red bleed through from the wood. We applied two coats of Zinsser Clear Shellac just to be safe.

On the tabletop, David used Citristrip Paint and Varnish Removing Gel to remove the old finish and stain. Two applications. Once he discovered that the top consisted of solid planks, not just a thin veneer over the subsurface, he grabbed the orbital sander. Using a power sander on veneer is a bad idea. The sander will eat through veneer in a heartbeat. But he now had solid planks. He whirred his way down to the natural wood grain — which is beautiful with rich tones and pronounced graining.
American Empire Revival Style

Here’s Pepper Popcorn checking out our work before being whisked back inside.
American Empire Revival Style

David didn’t fill in the dings and dents. We decided to maintain the integrity of the wood, which was still in very good condition. We feel there are times a piece should show its age and use. The rounded edge of the lower shelf, caused by hundreds of shoes resting and rubbing, are reminders of how many lives have touched this table. Sometimes, dings and excessive wear should be celebrated.American Empire Revival Style

On to the painting. Inspired by Leslie Stocker of Colorways, I wanted to try a new technique. Leslie layers paint tones to create light and shadows. I didn’t plan to use Dark Wax on this table; I wanted tonal highlights to carry the effect. Here’s Leslie’s inspirational image:
Leslie Stocker, Colorways

Before moving on to my tonal technique, I first painted two coats of Old White.
American Empire Revival Style
Next, I created my mixture. Moving from top to bottom, the containers hold

  • Old White
  • Arles : Old White, 2:2
  • Arles : Old White, 4:3
  • Arles

I anticipated my color to be a bit lighter than Leslie’s cabinet.
Annie Sloan Chalk Paint

I relied on the two Arles/Old White mixtures the most, using the Old White for highlights and  pure Arles for shadow. Here’s the beginning of my paint going down. As you see, I’m just applying patches of different tones randomly. A simple layering technique.
ASCP Arles and Old White

After I finished painting, David put on the first coat of MinWax Polyurethane. That’s where we are in this next picture. No wax on the paint yet, but light and shadows coming through. It’s subtle.
Annie Sloan Chalk Paint Arles and Old White

A problem cropped up with the polyurethane. David brushed it on in the shade and left it to dry but when the unseasonably warm sun came out, bubbles formed and dried on the table top. An unhappy David snatched up his sandpaper (180 and 220-grit) and set to it.

Four coats of the polyurethane went on. Between each coat David used 220-grit sandpaper  to smooth out imperfections caused by dust or a slightly uneven application. He sanded the final coat of Poly with 600-grit wet/dry sandpaper and lemon oil. The table top feels as smooth and satisfying as soft ice cream on a sizzling day.
MinWax Polyurethane

Meanwhile, I brushed on ASCP Clear Wax and wiped it off with a cloth. We snapped a few pictures and loaded the table into our SUV. American Empire Revival Style
This table is inherently heavy and utilitarian but the lines and upswept curves of its design give lightness to the piece.  It now sits at Avonlea Antiques and Design Gallery, ready for anyone looking for a desk, or computer table, or television stand.

Our French Bombé is another example of this layering technique.

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Ann Marie and David
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Participating in:
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25 Comments on Try This Painting Technique: Layering

  1. Mary-In the boondocks
    November 5, 2015 at 5:02 pm (6 years ago)

    What a beautiful table. I’m so glad you were able to salvage it. I love the curves of the legs. I also want to thank you for explaining how it is repaired. I am new at all of this and so could use all the help and tips you offer. It turned out beautiful!

    • irisabbey
      November 5, 2015 at 5:36 pm (6 years ago)

      Mary, thanks for your kind comments. I’m glad to hear some of our tips are helpful. Keep up the good work.

  2. Sheila
    November 6, 2015 at 4:11 am (6 years ago)

    This table is beautiful! Thank you for visiting me. Sheila

    • irisabbey
      November 6, 2015 at 9:32 pm (6 years ago)

      Sheila, thanks for commenting on our table. I just went to your site and saw that gorgeous tablecloth that your mother-in-law embroidered. What an inspired idea! It’s beautiful.

  3. Pili
    November 6, 2015 at 8:23 am (6 years ago)

    That table is gorgeous! I love using layers but I need more practise as mine doesn’t seem as cohesive as I would like. You chose two tones for the table which I love, the mahogany on top shows the beauty of the wood and the colour in the rest makes it lighter.

    • irisabbey
      November 6, 2015 at 9:35 pm (6 years ago)

      Pili, I was a bit nervous about trying this technique but it worked out beautifully. As my husband says, “It’s only paint. You can paint over it.” Yes, well that discounts all the time you’ve invested in painting. Keep up the good work.

  4. Keri
    November 6, 2015 at 11:59 am (6 years ago)

    This table looks beautiful!! The structure is amazing and the makeover you did on it looks fantastic!! 🙂

    • irisabbey
      November 6, 2015 at 9:37 pm (6 years ago)

      Hi, Keri — I am usually very cautious about painting antiques. But as you saw, the transformation gave this beauty a new lease on life.

  5. Katrin@KreativK.net
    November 6, 2015 at 5:41 pm (6 years ago)

    This table turned out beautifully! The tones you used are so warm and cozy and I like the shape of the legs especially! Lovely piece of furniture!

    • irisabbey
      November 6, 2015 at 9:40 pm (6 years ago)

      Katrin, you are absolutely correct about this table’s legs. They feminize it and add drama. When we took it into Avonlea Antiques and Design Gallery, a lot of men clustered around to look at the top and compliment David. I don’t think my painting is going to get much attention.

  6. Maureen
    November 6, 2015 at 8:20 pm (6 years ago)

    It’s a beautiful piece to begin with – such great bones! The wood / paint combo turned out beautiful>

    • irisabbey
      November 6, 2015 at 9:41 pm (6 years ago)

      Maureen, thanks for your kind words. We are really pleased with this piece. (Secretly, I’d like to keep her.)

  7. debrashoppeno5
    November 7, 2015 at 12:56 am (6 years ago)

    The table turned out great. You did such a nice job. I like how the top contrasts with the legs of the table.

    • irisabbey
      November 7, 2015 at 9:40 pm (6 years ago)

      Debra, thanks for commenting on our table. The dramatic top seems to be getting all the attention, although I still like how the layering turned out.

  8. Leslie Stocker
    November 8, 2015 at 2:12 am (6 years ago)

    Your table is gorgeous, beautiful work! Thanks for the mention. I just saw you have a connection to Rochester. How ironic! I grew up and went to school in Pittsford.

    • irisabbey
      November 8, 2015 at 4:24 am (6 years ago)

      Leslie, I love your blog, especially the videos. I that’s a goal of mine. You do such beautiful work. Thanks for taking the time to respond — it means a lot. Hey, I went to Bishop Kearney.

  9. Terry
    November 9, 2015 at 8:30 pm (6 years ago)

    Stunning job on this empire beauty! I love, love, love it! Thank you for sharing this inspiration at Making Broken Beautiful! I hope you will come and inspire again!
    Have a great day!


    • irisabbey
      November 9, 2015 at 9:33 pm (6 years ago)

      Thanks, Terry. I’ve only discovered your Curator’s Collection recently and love the ideas shared by the talented contributors.

  10. Sharon @ Elizabeth & Co.
    November 10, 2015 at 2:01 pm (6 years ago)

    What a great table and I love the layering technique! Featured at Be Inspired this morning. Thanks so much for sharing!

  11. Diana
    November 10, 2015 at 5:01 pm (6 years ago)

    What a stunning makeover! We’d love it if you shared this post (an any others like it) at our new link party–Vintage Charm. We go live Thursday at 8 am.
    Hope to see you there,
    Adirondack Girl @ Heart

    • irisabbey
      November 10, 2015 at 6:55 pm (6 years ago)

      Thanks, Diana. I plan to stop by. I just read your latest blog and saw you visited Cohoes. One of my college friends was from there and used to say it was Mohawk for “potholes in the river.” Since then I’ve learned that it refers to canoes going over the falls.

      • Diana
        November 16, 2015 at 10:55 pm (6 years ago)

        I just re-read your post and cannot get over how beautiful your table turned out. I’m going to pin it in hopes of trying out the layering technique sometime. Thanks for taking me up on my invitation to link up at Vintage Charm–hope to hang out with you there again!

        • irisabbey
          November 17, 2015 at 11:26 pm (6 years ago)

          Diana, thanks so much for your comment. I’m so glad we’ve discovered one another. Right now, I need to share some thoughts and, lucky girl, you’re the chosen one. I’ve run across a couple of divergent ideas in the past few days. Today I saw an advertisement offering to help women make money for Christmas by teaching them how to paint furniture. It was off-putting because Christmas is almost here (Hello, Thankgiving), and the ad seems to offer false hope to people who may be seriously struggling. A few days ago I read an article asking if the painted furniture trend is dead. The conclusion was no, it’s not dead but you have to up your game to stay competitive. The idea of slapping paint down on furniture is a distant memory. We seem to be headed into a Rococo era of furniture painting. Stencils, gold leaf, metallic waxes, tinted stains and more are just part of the arsenal now. My technique, which you so kindly appreciate, is a simple painting technique but it took about 4 times longer to finish the piece. Thanks for reading this to the end — if you’re still here.

  12. JaneEllen
    November 14, 2015 at 2:49 am (6 years ago)

    I would sure love to have that table, what a magnificent piece of furniture. So glad to see older pieces being brought back to life and used, you two are their saving grace. You both did a gorgeous job of re-habing this table. I’d use it for tv stand, would be beautiful in anybody’s home. Don’t see pieces like that where we live. Wish I did as having seen the Empire style dressers on blog land I’d love to have one of those also. We live west of Grand Junction, CO which is on west side of Rocky Mtns. Happy weekend

    • irisabbey
      November 14, 2015 at 2:58 am (6 years ago)

      JaneEllen, thanks so much. You certainly made my day with your generous praise. I fell in love with the curvy lines of our beauty. My son believes it will sell this weekend, but I could happily bring it home.


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